I discovered my first issue of The Pharmakon while cleaning at the coffee shop where I work. Some people collect stamps, others collect marbles. I collect zines. After only a cursory glance, I could tell that The Pharmakon had much more to offer me than mere padding for my collection. I took the copy back to the front counter and began to browse through it between helping customers. The Pharmakon did more to ignite my imagination and inspire me to take place in community action than any of the caffeine that I had thus far imbibed that morning. Thus began my relationship with The Pharmakon, a monthly publication launched this past June, the creation of Josh Stithem and Bite the Hand Productions.
The Pharmakon creates a beautiful balance between art and community, education and environment. From the last few issues, I have learned about a sustainable beekeeping workshop, Sonoma County Food Not Bombs, Free Mind Media and its community garden, the Tea Room (where one can go to discuss grassroots activism), how to build my own composting bin, the Sonoma County Conservation Action and its Know Your Neighbor program (which helps to connect people in order to protect our environment), the SMART Train, Harvest for the Hungry, a biodiesel workshop and much more.
I contacted Josh, who graciously agreed to give me a tour of The Pharmakon publishing quarters: his house in Santa Rosa. Josh's home is a living example of what The Pharmakon encourages: community, environmental stewardship and art. He and his roommates have transformed what was once a weed-ridden patch of dirt surrounded by sidewalk into a mini, ecologically sound swathe of gardener's paradise. They plan to put a community bulletin board on the corner; I suggest a solar-operated espresso machine. Josh tells me that the Pharmakon is motivated by the written word and exists as a place for people to find information and make connections.
In order to explore this idea of connection and community further, I decide to investigate one positive action that I would not have known about had I not picked up a copy of Josh's zine. Do I make my own mead? Attend an event at Free Mind Media? Or do I check out Monday Night Mass? For the sake of this column and bicyclists everywhere, I leave Josh to his band practice and commit to experiencing what is rumored to be the most successful Critical Mass bike ride this side of the Golden Gate.
Nica Poznanovich is self-proclaimed Queen Bee and coordinator of Monday Night Mass, a weekly event that regularly draws some 50 riders who depart from Santa Rosa's Community Market around 9:30pm. The bicyclists travel together through the streets via an ever-changing route. Unlike other Critical Mass rides, Monday Night Mass is not a protest but, rather, a chance to be an empowered bicyclist in an environment where you know you will be safe, surrounded and never stranded. This is a chance to make new friends, travel the streets by moonlight and learn to navigate Santa Rosa free from the confines of a carbon-spewing hunk of metal. All levels of riders are welcomed.
(A week after our conversation, Nica was hit by a car while riding her bicycle through Santa Rosa. She was not too badly hurt, but badly enough that she had to miss out on a Monday Night Mass, and she never misses Monday Night Mass.)
Despite Nica's conspicuous absence, everyone I meet is notably friendly. I could have showed up on a pink bicycle with training wheels, steamers and a banana seat and been welcomed with open arms. As it is, I show up with no bike at all and skulk about, staring at everyone and taking notes, and still every bicyclist I come across is nice to me. One rider tells me she bought her bike for 10 bucks and encourages me to look for one on Craigslist or at the dump. Another rider arrives with a large speaker he pulls on a cart behind his bike. He has a portable CD player strapped across his chest in a holster of sorts. The system slows him down a bit, he admits, especially around turns, but is worth it for obvious reasons.
Some riders tinker with their bikes and fill tires, while others pore over a map of Santa Rosa and discuss their route for the evening. Someone is dispatched to Nica's house to fetch the walkie-talkies, and friendly debates begin as to what is the safest route to take (apparently Fourth Street is no good, what with a rough right turn near Safeway and a blind turn where Pacific hits Fourth) and where they should stop for check-ins and refueling (Aroma Roasters and a taqueria on Sebastopol Avenue are universally agreed upon).
As I watch the bikers roll into the parking lot of Community Market, singly, in twos and in threes, I want to go with them. Even I—petrified of riding near cars, afraid of dogs and generally not even close to fit enough to peddle up a hill—feel a deep longing stir within my chest. I want to get a bike, and when I do, I know exactly where I am going to go riding.
When I get home, I pull out my August issue of The Pharmakon. I turn to page 19 and read: "Do it yourself, find a bike, fix a bike."
For information on 'The Pharmakon' contact Josh Stithem at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on Monday Night Mass, contact email@example.com.